Saturday, February 19, 2011

Iran's nuclear issue over the past week


Iran's uranium enrichment center at Natanz
I would like to draw the attention of the readers of the http://www.irandiplomacywatch.com/ blog to two noteworthy developments regarding Iran’s nuclear issue over the past week. The first major development was the recent statement by the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov on further sanctions against Iran. At a press conference with his British counterpart, William Hague, on Feb 15 in London, Lavrov reiterated Russia’s principled opposition to further sanctions against Iran. Lavrov stated that "Further sanctions would mean the suppression of the Iranian economy and creation of social problems for the population," which Russia cannot support. Lavrov’s recent statement should not be regarded as an isolated development but as the latest in a series of public statements made by various Russian officials over the past few months highlighting their new position on Iran’s nuclear issue . I have put the latest shift in Russia’s policy on Iran’s nuclear issue in perspective in one of my recent articles, which can be read here.

The second major development is the reports by mainstream US media of the latest US National Intelligence Estimate of Iran’s nuclear program. At a meeting with the US Senate Intelligence Committee, the US national intelligence chief, James Clapper, has reportedly stated that the US intelligence agencies are of the assessment that “ Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity to eventually produce nuclear weapons," . Clapper has added that in light of the advancements in Iran’s nuclear research and uranium enrichment activities “Iran is technically capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon in the next few years, if it chooses to do so". I have highlighted here the key terms qualifying Clapper’s assessment of Iran’s nuclear program.

While brushing aside the excited reports of the mainstream US media over the past several weeks that Iran’s nuclear program has been hampered and delayed by covert US and Israeli operations, mainly through the spread of the Stuxnet computer worm, the new US national intelligence estimate, the main findings of which have been disclosed by Clapper, does not add any new insights into the nature of Iran’s nuclear program as all countries possessing peaceful nuclear enrichment technology are hypothetically capable of taking partial steps toward developing nuclear bombs. After all, Clapper recognizes that a "central issue" is whether Iranian leaders have the political will to build a bomb. Western intelligence agencies have so far not been able to provide any evidence that Iranian political leaders consider building nuclear arms.

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